GUATEMALA CITY – Software company founder John McAfee was arrested by Guatemalan police for entering the country illegally, ending his bizarre weekslong journey as a blogging fugitive claiming to be persecuted by authorities in Belize.
The fate of the anti-virus guru remained unclear Thursday as Guatemalan authorities awaited word from their Foreign Ministry as to what they would do with McAfee and whether they intended to send him back to Belize, where he is a person of interest in the killing of a fellow ex-pat.
“We are awaiting instructions from the Foreign Ministry. It will be the foreign relations department that decides the process,” Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said following McAfee’s arrest Wednesday at a hotel in an upscale part of Guatemala City.
Earlier on Wednesday, McAfee said he had formally requested asylum in Guatemala after entering the country from Belize, where he says he fears for his safety because he has sensitive information about official corruption and refused to donate to local politicians.
Since refusing to turn himself in to authorities in Belize, the 67-year-old had been in hiding, blogging his movements and calling reporters, until reappearing in Guatemala to claim asylum. He has not said how he crossed the border into Guatemala.
His lawyer in Guatemala, Telesforo Guerra, warned Wednesday night that McAfee’s life would be in danger if he is returned to Belize.
“He will be in danger if he is returned to Belize, where he has denounced authorities,” Guerra said. “From the moment he asked for asylum he has to have the protection of the Guatemalan government.”
Guerra said he would ask that a judge look at McAfee’s case as soon as possible.
Police in Belize deny they are persecuting McAfee and say there is no warrant for his arrest. The country’s prime minister has even questioned McAfee’s mental state. Since there are no restrictions on his travels, it’s unclear why McAfee would need any special status in order to stay in Guatemala.
McAfee went on the run last month after officials tried to question him about the killing of Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death in early November on the Belize island where both men lived.
McAfee had engaged in a series of clashes with neighbours and authorities over allegations he kept aggressive dogs, illegal weapons and drug paraphernalia in his beachfront home on a Belize island. McAfee acknowledges that his dogs were bothersome and that Faull had complained about them, but denies killing Faull.
Faull’s home was a couple of houses down from McAfee’s compound.
The Faull family has said through a representative that the murder of their loved one on Ambergris Caye has gotten lost in the media frenzy provoked by McAfee’s manipulation of the media through phone calls, emails and blog posts detailing his life on the lam.
McAfee dropped out of sight in Belize after police said they were seeking him, although he grabbed global attention with regular phone calls with reporters and blog updates. He claimed to be wearing disguises and watching as police raided his house. It was unclear, however, how much of what McAfee — a confessed practical joker — said and wrote was true.
At one point, he even posted on his blog that he mounted an elaborate ruse in Mexico involving a double with a passport under his name.
He had earlier said he didn’t plan to leave Belize but ultimately did because he thought “Sam” was in danger, referring to the young woman who has accompanied him since he went into hiding.
“I need a safe place where I can actually speak out,” McAfee said on Tuesday after his arrival in Guatemala. “Now that I’m here I can speak freely. I can speak openly.”
He said he fears he will be killed if he turns himself in for questioning in Belize.
“Belize does not have a good track record of providing safety when they ask to question you,” he said.
McAfee, the creator of the McAfee antivirus program, has led an eccentric life since he sold his stake in the anti-virus software company that is named after him in the early 1990s and moved to Belize about three years ago to lower his taxes.
He told the New York Times in 2009 that he had lost all but $4 million of his $100 million fortune in the U.S. financial crisis. However, a story on the Gizmodo website quoted him as calling that claim “not very accurate at all.” He has dabbled in yoga, ultra-light aircraft and producing herbal medications.